Kaley Cuoco’s role as struggling actress Penny in “The Big Bang Theory” nearly went to Marisa Tomei along with many other actresses, according to a preview of Jessica Radloff’s upcoming oral history of the show, “The Big Bang Theory: The Definitive, Inside Story of the Epic Hit Series,” published by The Hollywood Reporter.
“I had the part of Sheldon for a long time before everything was settled. I read with Marisa Tomei,” recalled Jim Parsons, who won four Emmys for his starring role as physicist Sheldon Cooper.
He was told at the time that the Oscar winner, 57, had effectively been auditioning him.
“I went, ‘Oh, that makes sense.’ But oh my gosh what a different world that would have been,” said Parsons, 49.
At the time, Penny — who for years was the only consistent female presence in the group of nerdy friends Sheldon, Leonard (Johnny Galecki), Howard (Simon Helberg) and Raj (Kunal Nayyar) — was supposed to be Katie, who was meant to be “cynical, down on her luck, and off-putting.”
Cuoco, 36, the Emmy-nominated star of “The Flight Attendant,” upon testing for the pilot was adored by network CBS but, being “so sunny and bubbly” she “didn’t bring the dark qualities” to the role’s original incarnation, casting director Ken Miller said in the book.
Prior to Cuoco’s casting, Canadian actress Amanda Walsh — known for her role on ABC’s short-lived “Sons & Daughters” — recalled having “had a really positive first audition” for Katie, though she didn’t initially nab the part, either.
Instead, “She’s All That” actress Jodi Lyn O’Keefe got the role and participated in a table read. But O’Keefe’s “darkness … just didn’t work” and she was inevitably axed, casting director Nikki Valko said.
“We had to recast in three days, so I remember holding auditions Easter Sunday,” Valko added.
That brought the crew back to Walsh, who said she had a second audition that “went really well and was a lot of fun,” and resulted in a near-immediate casting. Walsh played Katie in the show’s unaired initial pilot, but was later replaced with Cuoco as Penny before a new pilot was filmed.
Other actresses considered for the part before it turned to Cuoco’s Penny include Tara Reid and Elizabeth Berkley.
“The Big Bang Theory” aired for 12 seasons on CBS and during its tenure took home 10 Emmys, including four for Parsons as outstanding lead actor in a comedy series.